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twangster

Reviewed: All Inclusive Resort vs A Royal Caribbean Cruise

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I recently had an opportunity to try a fly-in vacation at an all inclusive resort in Jamaica so I'd thought I'd share my thoughts on my experience versus a Royal Caribbean cruise.

I booked using a Priceline "Express Deal" for a "5 star resort".   I ended up at the Hyatt Ziva Rosa Hall in Jamaica's Montego Bay.  I used a 10% off coupon from a previous Priceline stay which brought our nightly rate for two during spring break down to $400 USD per night all in (taxes, resort fees, gratuity, meals and drinks).  This for the least expensive "resort view" double bed room.  For this resort that was pretty much entry level.  Pool view and suites only went up fast from there.  I did not include the cost of flights in this price because those vary based on origination and cruises don't have flight costs bundled in.  The best rate I could find for this resort without using Priceline or my 10% coupon was over $550 per night for the same room, same dates.  

The resort itself is beautiful.  The property consists of two resorts, the Hyatt Ziva (family friendly) and the Hyatt Zilara (adult only).  We were free as adults to walk between them at will.  Both resorts have their own pools and share many facilities such as beach activities, restaurants and bars.  

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First Observation - Solo Rates

As a frequent solo cruiser I often lament the dreaded single supplement.  Cruise fares are advertised on a double occupancy basis with a per person rate.  To cruise solo, you must double that advertised per person rate.  Hotels and resorts generally advertise a room rate.  Since this was an all inclusive resort including drinks and food, rates were also based on occupancy.  In this case a single person paid just $50 per night less than two people in the same room.  Even with my best deal finding, coupon clipping abilities that's just a 13% savings for a solo traveler.

On this trip I traveled with a friend who I have cruised with before but with just a $50 difference in the rate for a solo traveler it's hard to give the fly-in resort a win on solo pricing.

Second Observation - Food

The resort featured seven restaurants available to us included in the price.  These included an Italian, French, Brazilian Steakhouse, Asian and Seafood restaurant as well as more common options such as American bar food and a pizza station.  Breakfast was pretty much a buffet style affair with eggs cooked to order stations satisfying our daily start with a made to order omelet.   Fruit was plentiful.  Lots of pancakes, waffles, etc. 

Every restaurant offered upcharge options such as this common offer available regardless what restaurant we visited:

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The menus looked great and the variety appealing.  However meal after meal was just okay.  Mediocre might be a better description. 

The Italian restaurant may have been our next best meal over breakfast.  The Brazilian style steakhouse offered one of those red/green discs you turn over based on your supply and demand needs.  My travel companion noted that the highlight of her meal was the salad she made for herself at the salad bar.  The meats came regardless what color our disc displayed and I sampled a few of them before just having several small servings of the 'tenderloin' beef.  Having eaten at Brazilian style restaurants in cities such as Atlanta this was not a highlight meal.  

Those breakfast omelets turned out to be the highlight of our culinary experience.  Watch out for the Scotch Bonnet Sauce, it's hot, hot, hot but very good.  A little goes a very long way.  The breakfast venue offered stunning views outdoors as we enjoyed our start to the day.  

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Side note - room service food was included but we never tried it.

One other included venue was a jerk food station with several sauces and corn bread.

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It was okay but you had to carefully pick through the chicken to avoid bones as they just chopped it all up into pieces and served it on a plate.  Like most other food, it just was missing something and I'm a jerk fan (you are what you eat).

By the third day we declared Royal Caribbean food a hands down, no contest winner.  

Third Observation - Beverages

Adult beverages were included, including the stocked mini-bar in the room.  The mini bar was stocked with a couple of Red Stripe and Red Stripe Light cans, some common liquors (rum/vodka/tequila) and a couple of cans of mixers. WATA (local play on words for bottled water was also plentiful).

Pool bars offered a decent selection of frozen concoctions, Red Stripe and Red Stripe Light on tap plus your standard variety of mixed drink cocktails.  

We sampled many of the frozen concoctions.  So many we were left with a sugar buzz but not much of an alcoholic buzz.  I never like to accuse anywhere of watering down drinks but either my tolerance rose substantially for four days or those drinks were mostly water.  

The included wines were hard to drink.  Wine menus were offered with each meal but everything was at an additional cost ranging from $45 to "OMG there is no way we are getting that bottle".  The house wines left a lot to be desired.  As my glass lowered even slightly they were very good about refilling it.  However it's not often I leave a full glass of wine at the table at the end of a meal.  The wine was just that bad.  "Maybe if I don't drink it, they won't refill it" went through my mind.

Cocktails like vodka-tonic were basically well drinks with nothing top shelf available.  

Bars opened at 10am but Mimosa's were available at breakfast before that time.  We each had three one morning yet felt nothing.  

Best option turned out to be Red Stripe on tap.  Despite how much beer can fill you up, if you desire to become even moderately buzzed, stick with beer.  Fortunately I like Red Stripe.

It didn't take long to declare Royal Caribbean adult beverages a hands down winner.  Even the included Diamond happy hour wines on Royal Caribbean have found a new respect from me.  I longed for them during every dinner at the resort.  That says a lot.  

Fresh off Navigator with the hand crafted cocktails in The Bamboo Room I was very disappointed with the adult beverages at the all inclusive resort.  

Even standard Royal Caribbean frozen drinks, mixed drinks, any drink, outshined any drink I ordered at the resort.

Fourth Observation - The Resort Itself.

Beautiful resort with well kept grounds.  Staff were excellent and well trained.  Everyone we met was happy and went beyond expectations to assist and be helpful.   No complaints whatsoever at any time with the resort itself or any employee.  Just very pleasant and accommodating people.  I was quickly on a first name basis with many of them. 

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Our lunch restaurant view one day:

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Some of the more expensive rooms feature a shared pool exclusive to those adult only rooms with outdoor lounging beds on the patio and in water loungers. On the adult only Zilara side of the resort these pools featured a lazy river type channel to the main pool.  Very nice, but expensive. 

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Meeting rooms and convention space.  Immaculate grounds.  Very well kept with attention to details.

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Each resort had it's own swim up bar which was immensely popular.  Yes even Jamaica has spring breakers but nothing that was a problem.  Pools had lifeguards.  One pool next to this one had sport activities such as water bike spin classes, in water yoga, pool volleyball, etc.  Lots to do.

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Cabanas available for rent.

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Cabanas pricing started at just $89.  Beach cabanas $99.  Aqua cabanas pictured above $139.  The most expensive Royal Palm cabanas included a fruit plate, 15 min. message and lunch delivered for $250. 

Compared to Royal Caribbean's private destinations of CocoCay and Labadee the resort cabanas are a strong winner for value.  While not as large as the new Oasis Lagoon pool on CocoCay, the resort pools were pretty incredible.  

Clearly no ship can build these massive fresh water pools, there is just not enough space on a ship pool deck to do it.   Not pictured were gas fire-pits around the grounds with resort seating around them at night.  Very peaceful and relaxing. Included Hobie catamaran 15 minute sailing, paddle boards and kayaks.  

Night time entertainment was pretty much musicians.  One played a violin or fiddle with a machine generated track of background songs and he was very, very good.  We listened to him for hours.  

No ship can compete with a resort spanning hundreds of acres with massive pools, a fitness center, fire-pits and so much more.  Hyatt Ziva is very well maintained and beautiful. 

Win for the resort especially with the reasonable cabanas. 

Honorable mention to Navigator's new resort style pool deck.  For a ship it's the next best thing to a resort.  

Summary

I'm really glad I tried an all inclusive resort because you hear so many people trying to draw comparisons. 

Departing Jamaica after boarding the plane and getting airborne I had some drink coupons so we enjoyed an airline Mimosa in a plastic cup.  We both felt more from that half-sized mini-Mimosa then we did from the three in a row we had at breakfast one morning at the resort.  

Drinks on Royal Caribbean are a clear and strong winner.

When we landed in Orlando for our connection we both clamored a real meal of airport food.  It says a lot when Outback in an airport is a fantastic experience after three days of blah.  Even with a plastic knife and fork.

After clearing immigration we had to wait for our luggage before rejoining the rest of America in the terminal.  We talked with some other people who stayed at different all inclusive resorts more expensive than ours (the word Secret is in the name).  I had to ask.  "How was the food?".  Long pregnant pause before their response... "Well, it was just okay, but we really like the resort."  Pretty much exactly how we felt.  Just okay.

Food on Royal Caribbean is a strong winner without bringing Royal specialty dining into the picture.

Chair hogs.  We learned on our first morning get out early and stake your claim.  I grabbed a coffee and claimed loungers under umbrellas while my travel buddy worked out in the fitness center.  Some of my message posts this week were from that very poolside lounger. 

WiFi was included but not much better than O3b internet on newer ships.  It struggled with Pandora.

Upcharge opportunities.  At every turn there were offers to upgrade just about everything, at a cost.  A frequent source of complaints from some cruisers comes from upcharge opportunities on a cruise.  I've heard people frequently claim "I though it was all inclusive".  At this five star all inclusive resort we were inundated with opportunities to upgrade our experience including photographers taking pictures available at an additional charge.  We didn't purchase any of them, just as I frequently don't when cruising.  I just had to mention the irony of cruisers comparing it to an all inclusive resort.

Transportation to the resort from the airport was not included and amounted to $33 per person round trip plus tip.  Not much different than airport to port and/or hotel costs for a cruise.  No clear winner.

Airfare is difficult to compare but I can say that airfare to Jamaica (with a stop in Florida each way) was more expensive for the same spring break week had our flights ended in Florida.  How much? Somewhere between $100-$150 for two people.  

My overall conclusion is that a Royal Caribbean cruise is a winner for my needs and my culinary expectations, which aren't much as a non-foodie.   A cruise is simply better value.  Despite having gratuity included in the all inclusive resort pricing it was pretty clear that a few extra bucks here and there made a better experience and our bartenders kept our drinks full or replaced with a new one before we could say no.  

I've seen that some people don't understand where Royal is heading with the CocoCay investment.  We pretty much hung out around that resort pool a lot.   I get it now, more so than before.  Oasis Lagoon at CocoCay is calling my name.  Give me a 3 night cruise with Royal Caribbean food, drinks and a long day in CocoCay any day.  

I don't regret my Jamaica vacation.  It's very beautiful there.  However I'll never feel like I am missing out by taking a cruise.  When my friends talk up the all inclusive resorts I'll just nod and smile knowing I have another Royal Caribbean cruise booked where I can enjoy the food, and drinks, and so much more.

For what's it's worth, the Hyatt Ziva is available for cruise ship "resort for a day" from independent websites.  A couple next to me at a bar mentioned "it's almost time to get back to the ship".  We watched Adventure of the Seas sail past us just after sunset one night.

The rate I saw for a day pass was $152 per person per day.  Suddenly Cozumel resorts for a day options looked like incredible deals and the food and drinks I've had at places like Nachi Cocum for a third of that price make them look like incredible bargains.  

 

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Having done both I'd almost say these vacations aren't comparable. Both are great in their own way and depending what you're looking to do could decide which is better for you. A cruise is great to get out and explore different locations, however with a somewhat more structured time table. An all inclusive is a great option if you're looking to get away and do nothing but relax. There's no time table and things move at a more leisurely pace. Price wise the all inclusive will usually cost more then the cruise and the service between the two is usually very close. As far as food at an all inclusive that somewhat depends where you go, in Jamaica and Mexico we've had excellent food and in Punta Cana we could not say the same. Drinks can also be influenced by tips at an all inclusive more so than I've experienced on cruises, not that any of them were bad.

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Thank you for your post! I had been wondering, and the wife and I have had quite a few talks about it! Now that I know what to expect, I will still choose a cruise vs all inclusive.  I just know that for me it’s going to be my personal preference.  You just helped me make up my mind!!😁 

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It also depends on with whom you are vacationing, IMO.  With just Dan and me, we will always choose a cruise.  It is a perfect fit for the way we like to vacation.  However, we often travel with friends who don't particularly care for cruises.  Believe it or not, those people DO exist !  One of my girlfriends is deathly afraid of water.  So in cases where we are vacationing with them, we will do land vacays and we always have a great time.  We have vacationed with family members who have small children and  it is often much easier for that group to stay on the land.

Over the years I have decided that I love Jamaica as a cruise destination but it is probably the last place I would choose for an all-inclusive b/c it seems as if you are truly a prisoner on the resort.  Of course you CAN venture out but I have never been comfortable roaming about in Jamaica.  I don't do it on a cruise either.  Of course, the resort LOVES it if you stay put on their property but I like to be able to get out and see something new so we have decided that the all-inclusive option in Jamaica just isn't our thing.  We have done a number of all-inclusives in Mexico that we truly enjoyed but things aren't as great in Mexico anymore either....even on the east coast of Mexico which used to be much safer.

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Thanks for this excellent review.  It's always interesting to see how the other half (folks that prefer this to cruising) lives.

I will say that a land-based resort has always had zero appeal to me.  A resort for a day on a cruise port stop is almost too much for me...and the price per night you quoted nearly made my heart stop.

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Great review! I have occasionally gazed at those resorts (mostly when Delta travel sends me emails trying to get me to bite), but I have never booked one. I had heard that the meals were MEH, but it helps a lot to hear your opinion since those others were from random post and I “know” you 🤗😂 Funny that the “opportunities” for up-charging were plentiful there - it seems to be a trend in travel and every other product type. I would think that one upside to those would be for those who want to spent extra time in a country in which you don’t feel entirely safe given the enhanced security compared to non-exclusive resort travel (e.g.,  you won’t end up with as much of the constant pleas from pot dealers and self-styled travel agents 😏).  We have friends who love these resorts since they love scuba diving, but they have noted there is a huge diversity in how friendly that the staff is across the properties (e.g., they said in one they felt ignored as compared to the European guests). Thanks again for that comprehensive peek in, it was very helpful 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼

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My only experience with an all inclusive was our honeymoon two years ago.  We started with a week-long eastern caribbean cruise on Adventure of the Seas followed by 5 (6?) nights at the Excellence Riviera Cancun.  I had a very different experience than twangster.  We were blown away by the food at their restaurants (with the exception of the tapas place) and their drinks included top shelf liquor with proper pours.

I did a quick look at the reviews on tripadvisor.  Both resorts have an overall 4.5 stars (though the one in Cancun is based on 16,000 reviews vs 4,000 for the Hyatt Ziva) so I'm not sure how I'd tell the difference.  I can say from some of our planning that a lot of the all-inclusives we looked at mentioned limited selection on liquors.  Some even said drinks made with locally made rums, vodkas, etc. were included but anything name brand was extra (even if the brand isn't that good).

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19 hours ago, twangster said:

I recently had an opportunity to try a fly-in vacation at an all inclusive resort in Jamaica so I'd thought I'd share my thoughts on my experience versus a Royal Caribbean cruise.

 

Don't you work for a living?.....,  No don't answer that.  I want your job.... 😉

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Thank you for an excellent comparison.  We appreciate the detail and especially the time you put into it.  A few questions:

1) One of the things that we appreciate on cruises is the quality and quantity of the entertainment.  Every all-inclusive we have been to had marginal entertainment (at best).  I think it is obvious they have nothing close to the Broadway shows and the entertainment on the large ships.  However, how did it compare to the smaller ships?

2) The other thing we love is the Orchestras and live bands on every ship.  We will follow them all over the ship to listen and dance to their music if we can.  Did this all-inclusive have anything like?  Was it as good?

3) Ice shows, Diving shows, Two70 ... anything close to this?

Thanks ... Curt from Canada

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20 minutes ago, Curt From Canada said:

Thank you for an excellent comparison.  We appreciate the detail and especially the time you put into it.  A few questions:

1) One of the things that we appreciate on cruises is the quality and quantity of the entertainment.  Every all-inclusive we have been to had marginal entertainment (at best).  I think it is obvious they have nothing close to the Broadway shows and the entertainment on the large ships.  However, how did it compare to the smaller ships?

2) The other thing we love is the Orchestras and live bands on every ship.  We will follow them all over the ship to listen and dance to their music if we can.  Did this all-inclusive have anything like?  Was it as good?

3) Ice shows, Diving shows, Two70 ... anything close to this?

Thanks ... Curt from Canada

Welcome to the message boards!

At the resort one night there was the excellent fiddler I mentioned.  Other nights a steel drum band and a singer with guitar.  I liken these acts to the types of fly-in musicians on Royal who might perform at the Schooner Bar, Pub, Boleros or Promenade.  One night was a kids movie under the stars (outdoors).  On Royal these types of acts tend to fly in, stay for a week or so then move to another ship or another land gig.  At this resort the musician was not published in the daily guide.  We found them by walking around.  

There were no productions such as what we typically see in the main theater on a ship.  No comedians either.

You bring up a really good point.  Royal puts significant effort into their entertainment and that's included in the cruise fare.  That caliber of entertainment was absent at the resort.

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7 hours ago, Atlantix2000 said:

My only experience with an all inclusive was our honeymoon two years ago.  We started with a week-long eastern caribbean cruise on Adventure of the Seas followed by 5 (6?) nights at the Excellence Riviera Cancun.  I had a very different experience than twangster.  We were blown away by the food at their restaurants (with the exception of the tapas place) and their drinks included top shelf liquor with proper pours.

 

We stayed at Excellence Playa Mujeres years ago - I agree that it was an excellent experience with top shelf liquors and wonderful food.  Still, we really prefer cruising - it's just a different experience!

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Thanks @twangster that was really cool.. I think at this point in my life, I'm just going to stick with cruises..  We've only ben on one land based vacation since we started cruising (Gulf Shores AL for my brothers wedding).  it was nice.. but we realized that land vacations aren't for us 

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Great synopsis! 

You mentioned correctly that the pool area of a resort will have an inherit advantage of a cruise because of the limited space on a cruise ship.  Very fair and astute observation.

By the same token, cruises take you to multiple ports/destinations, and it is an inherit benefit of cruising.  Moreover, it's included in the cruise fare. 

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